The Dangers of Walking in Boston: RTOR and Jaywalking

In Massachusetts, drivers are allowed right turn on red (“RTOR”). Under M.G.L.c 89 §8 “You must come to a complete stop at a red traffic light. You may turn right unless a NO TURN ON RED SIGN IS PRESENT.” The original purpose of RTOR was a fuel-saving measure, which the federal government promoted during the oil crises in the 1970s. The Federal Highway Administration found that allowing drivers to turn right on red would result in drivers spending 1 to 4.6 seconds less time stopped at red lights. RTOR was initially adopted in 1980 by all 50 states to try and maintain steady traffic flow with minimum risk of accidents, but RTOR has had serious unintended consequences. A 1981 Department of Transportation study (“DOT”) showed that only one year after RTOR was adopted, there was a significant increase in the amount of crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. According to the above DOT study “[t]he majority of these RTOR crashes involved a driver looking left for a gap in traffic and striking a pedestrian or bicyclist coming from the driver’s right.” The fuel savings gained from RTOR are not worth the very real risk that RTOR poses to pedestrians. According to a 2009 U.S. National Household Transportation Survey car trips under a mile add up to about 10 billion miles per year: it is obvious that driving less and walking more would result in substantial fuel savings. In order to achieve greater fuel savings, we would be better off making our streets safer for pedestrians to encourage folks to park their vehicles at home for short trips and walk instead. One way of making our streets safer would be to do away with right turns on red.

Right turns at red lights are not the only thing that makes Boston streets dangerous for pedestrians. Pedestrians put themselves at risk by jaywalking. Jaywalking is when someone on foot crosses the street outside of a crosswalk without regard for oncoming traffic. In Boston, jaywalking is an illegal offense fineable up to $2 according to M.G.L.c 90 §18A. A recent Boston Globe article reported that the number of motor vehicle accidents involving jaywalkers more than doubled since last year. When the Globe article asked Bostonians why they feel safe Jaywalking, they attributed it to “impatience, poorly timed lights, and stated that if Boston drivers could violate traffic rules why couldn’t they. Jaywalking could also be largely attributed to the fact that Police Officers do not fine Jaywalkers like they should according to Massachusetts law. When an officer was asked why he did not fine Jaywalkers he stated “no self-respecting cop would bother taking the time to book someone for such an offense.” The law to fine jaywalkers has been around since 1962 but is something that was not feared or imposed since the highest fine you could receive was $2. In February 2016, Massachusetts State Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler proposed a bill that would increase the fine of jaywalking to $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense, and $75 for any subsequent offenses. Ms. Chandler proposed this bill after there were numerous pedestrian deaths in Worcester because of Jaywalking. The proposed bill has failed to advance and therefore the fine for Jaywalking is still $1 for the first offense and $2 for any subsequent offenses.

If you, or someone you know, has been injured or killed while crossing the street in Boston, then please contact one of our experienced pedestrian accident attorneys at Mitcheson & Lee, so that we can get you the compensation you deserve.